It's hard to believe, but the music portion of the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2011. In the last quarter-century, the annual event has evolved to become the gathering place for music-industry darlings, wannabes and established acts.
St. Louis has several acts doing official SXSW nighttime showcases this year. Gospel singer Jai is performing at the Carver Museum's Boyd Vance Theatre (1165 Angelina) on Friday, March 18, while J.R. and Thi'sl are included in a "Holy Hip-Hop" showcase at the same venue on Saturday, March 19. Prog/power-pop-influenced rockers Greek Fire are also doing a high-profile showcase, at Emo's Main Room (603 Red River Street) at 10 p.m. on Saturday.
Although these night shows are coveted, the unofficial concert and party scene is where the real fun happens at SXSW. This underbelly is also where St. Louis musicians tend to congregate -- appropriate, since the city has never been impressed by buzzy genres or hyped bands.
The hip-hop community represents the biggest St. Louis contingent in Austin this year. Force member Nato Caliph rented a van and says he has thirteen people riding with him -- and notes that he knows of four other groups of people traveling to SXSW by car. (All told, he estimates that there's a "minimum of 40 people" going to Austin from the Lou.)
The marquee event for many of these performers is a daytime concert dubbed SXMW (South by Midwest), which is taking place at Dirty Bill's (511 Rio Grande Street) from 2 to 6 p.m. on Friday, March 18. The concert reads like a who's-who of local talent: Tef Poe, Rockwell Knuckles, Vandalyzm, Teresajenee, Scripts N Screwz, Family Affair, Tech Supreme, Black Spade, Jia Davis, Prince Ea, Lyfestile, Legend Camp, WhiteOut & RT-FaQ, Rome and Blake Symphony are just some of the artists scheduled to be there. (Several of the SXMW performers have other shows going on as well; Black Spade and Vandalyzm have performances on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, while Rockwell is doing an official SXSW showcase at Nuvola (105 East Fifth Street) on Saturday, March 19.)
Caliph, who's also performing at SXMW, says that one of the major aims of the show is to "establish more of a [St. Louis/Midwest] presence." To that end, the concert also features some notable out-of-towners, including Chicago rapper GLC (who's part of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music label) and up-and-coming artist Gotham Green. While in Austin, GLC and Tef Poe will be filming a video for the recently released remix of Tef's song "Out the Kitchen"; GLC will also be playing at the Gramophone on March 21. Caliph and Black Spade also plan to shoot a video for the song "Rebel" while in Texas; the former is hoping to snag some live footage for the clip. Those same filmmakers, SYGU, are going to be documenting the St. Louis presence at SXSW, so anyone not privileged to be there can still keep up with what happened.
Elsewhere, KDHX (88.1 FM) presents two Twangfest day parties at SXSW every year at the Austin restaurant Jovita's (1619 South First Street). In past years, this event has included artists such as Deer Tick, Calexico, Carolina Chocolate Drops and David Bazan playing in a space tinier than Off Broadway. This year's model of the party, which takes place on March 17 and March 19, is rather impressive; acts scheduled to play include Steve Wynn, Great Lake Swimmers, Ha Ha Tonka, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Sean Rowe, Thao Nguyen, Freedy Johnston and the Baseball Project. (The latter group features Wynn, Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey of R.E.M., and Linda Pitmon.) Locals included in the lineup are Brothers Lazaroff, Kentucky Knife Fight and Pretty Little Empire. Oh yeah -- these events are free with an RSVP.
Kentucky Knife Fight is also playing the Overtone Showcase at J. Black's (710-B West Sixth Street) on March 18; also on that bill is the Whiskey Folk Ramblers, who recently opened for Old 97's at the Pageant. Besides the KDHX day-party appearance, Pretty Little Empire is playing at the Nomad Bar (1213 Corona Drive) later that night, a Friday afternoon indie-rock showcase at Red Fez (209 West Fifth Street) and a Friday-night house show with Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps.
Rockers Ava, Wait -- which now splits their time between Las Vegas and St. Louis -- are also playing a show at Red Fez on March 19. Hip-hop troupe Illphonics is playing at noon on Saturday at the Dizzy Rooster (306 East Sixth Street). And finally, Audri & Aaron -- the stripped-down Alton folk duo that recently won the maurice's Small Town Sound national contest -- will be doing a private showcase at SXSW with Sick of Sarah and the Bangles.